The County Commission must decide what kind of county it wants Pasco to be. Its business plan says Pasco will be Florida's premier county, but its elected leaders act that way only if somebody else is picking up the tab.
Presented with a proposed county budget for 2014 last week, three commissioners immediately axed the very first initiative — adding four code enforcement officers to bolster the aesthetic appearance of the county and to help clean up residential neighborhoods and commercial districts. The proposed cost of less than $300,000 would have come from local property taxes.
A few minutes later, the commission allocated $373,566 in federal money to begin a wide-ranging effort to rehabilitate the Shamrock Heights and Uni-Ville subdivisions near U.S. 19 and Trouble Creed Road in west Pasco. Of the 294 homes there, only 108 are homeowner occupied and many are in foreclosure or abandoned. The multi-year project will use U.S. dollars for infrastructure and federal and state money for housing upgrades.
The commission's positions are contradictory. The redevelopment of west Pasco's deteriorating residential areas is a laudable project to enhance the affordable housing stock and to try to improve property values. Yet, failing to upgrade the county's investment in code enforcement makes it more likely blight will accelerate in older neighborhoods.
The proposed county budget, which included a 9 percent increase in the general fund tax rate, called for rebuilding the county's code enforcement division which has shrunk from 24 to 14 officers over the past six years.
The four new officers would have been assigned to do proactive enforcement, rather than answering customer complaints. They were expected to handle a minimum of 4,400 cases annually.
Code enforcement focuses on eyesores — abandoned cars, trash, overgrown lots, piles of junk tires — that can signal a residential area's potential deterioration, reduced property values and increased crime. The plan called for seeking voluntary compliance, rather than writing citations and starting formal enforcement proceedings.
"Our appearance scores are very low. This is one of our major issues. Bad reputation,'' Assistant County Administrator Heather Grimes told commissioners last month.
Indeed. Commissioner Henry Wilson endorsed the idea during a June workshop, but he was overruled last week when Commissioners Pat Mulieri, Ted Schrader and Jack Mariano balked at the expense. Mulieri questioned the focus on cleaning up neighborhoods if low-income residents can't afford the tipping fees charged at the county landfill.
Her logic is misguided. Instead of tolerating a trashy appearance, commissioners would be wise to add the code enforcement officers and to set aside a modest pool of money to help defray the costs of neighborhood cleanups.
That's what a premier county would do.